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Sifoddling Along

By Marilyn Carnell

How Community Service Changed My Life

I retired early from a career in the food business and my husband and I moved to Pineville, Missouri. I didn’t plan to retire at that time, I was hoping to get a job at Walmart to finish my working years. Instead, I got involved in community development as a volunteer. First I was asked to run for the office of mayor. It wasn’t strictly a volunteer job. It paid the princely salary of $50/month, but I loved it. I saw it as a way to pay back the village that raised me with so much love and care. When I realized how many things were needed, I was hooked on community service. It never occurred to me that I should have more compensation. I was paying back a big dept.

I often wonder what Pineville would be like today if there had not been a group who opposed anything I suggested from day one. They were more intent on blocking me in any way possible than seeing what we could accomplish together. What had I done to deserve such treatment? I was an uppity, educated woman who wanted to change the way things had been done for decades and that could not be allowed. Besides, there was someone in the wings who wanted the job desperately. To answer my question: Pineville would be far better prepared to deal with the wrenching changes ahead when the growth of northwest Arkansas pushes across the state line at an even faster rate.

In the short two and a half years I served as mayor, I conducted the first inventory, had City Hall checked for accessibility for all, introduced computers (the clerks were handwriting water bills with pencil), and my husband wrote free programs for the water and fire departments, I helped write a grant to replace the dangerous wastewater plant, served on the advisory committee for I-49 and found a way to keep the old highway between Anderson and Pineville intact instead of being cut, proposed and campaigned for a use tax that brought millions of dollars to the city. Only recently have funds been allocated to better serve residents instead of staff.

I didn’t give up and quit easily. I endured public humiliation and embarrassment, destruction of 23 tires with nails and screws, expensive damage to my car, constant criticism and so much passive-aggressive treatment that my spirit was broken. My only regret is that I didn’t have a press conference to explain the harassment that drove me to give up. Yet, when I asked a local newsman why he didn’t write a story about what I had gone through his response was, “We report the news, we don’t make the news.”

After my tenure as mayor, I still refused to give up trying to make Pineville a better place to live and to prepare for the changes coming. I continued to work on economic development, art walks, Christmas events, watershed protection, and promoting businesses as a member of the board of the Chamber of Commerce which culminated in the production of the folk history play, “Snake County Stories.”

What did all of these good and bad experiences teach me?

Being deeply interested in a problem and looking for answers is an opportunity for personal growth in addition to improving a situation.

Good can be accomplished even in a hostile or unpromising environment.

I am a stronger person from any experience and working to repay my hometown gave me a real sense of purpose and usefulness.

There is no doubt I made political mistakes and there are many things I would do differently today, but I did the best I could at the time.

There are always opportunities for improvement. It takes working together, developing trust and respect for others, and a sincere belief to quote the late Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Senator, “We all do better when we do better.”

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